Yaqub Ali

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Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland

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Yaqub Ali

I arrived here with pounds 4 in my pocket .. now I’m one of Scotland’s richest men; MR MEGABUCKS: Boss cash and carried away a fortune.

Refugee Yaqub Ali arrived in Glasgow from Pakistan in 1952 with only pounds 4.10 in his pocket.

Yaqub Ali

Now, the man whose first job consisted of walking from door to door with a suitcase full of clothes is worth pounds 18million.

His is a REAL rags-to-riches tale.

Yaqub and his brother Taj own Europe’s largest wholesale warehouse, Castle AA Brothers’ cash and carry chain.

In its heyday, the business employed 500 people and had an annual turnover of pounds 100million.

Yaqub managed to change the face of shopping in Scotland.

In 1963, he was responsible for introducing the concept of the corner shop to this country.

Times have changed, however. The growth of discount supermarkets which stay open all hours have crucified the corner shop.

And since AA Brothers only sell to wholesalers, Yaqub now plans to convert his Gorbals enterprise into a massive retail park, providing much-needed employment for the area.

Yaqub is one of seven men based in Scotland to appear on a list of the UK’s 100 richest Asians.

The list – the first authoritative league table of Britain’s Asian business barons – was drawn up by Philip Beresford, editor of the Sunday Times’ Rich List.

Yaqub Ali’s family were told to quit India at partition – when Pakistan be-came separate – or be shot.

He said: “Although I do not hate India now, my family did not want to leave. You see, when I was a child, my family weren’t poor.

“Then, when we became refugees, we lost everything.

“Being a refugee is so painful – in Bosnia, Pakistan, wherever you are. There were days when we had nothing to eat at all. We were hungry and desperate. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.”

Things did not improve when Yaqub first came to Scotland. He worked for four years as a door-to-door salesman.

“For a start,” he said, “I couldn’t speak English. After a few months all I could say was `porridge’, `cornflakes’ and `cheerio’.

“I had no education. I came to this country to better myself. That is the only valid reason for leaving your own country.

“It’s de-grading to chap doors, having to go out whatever the weather.

“But I was determined to do well.

“That’s the secret – determination. Never give up – never accept defeat.”

Yaqub opened a knit-wear warehouse in 1956. In 1963, he closed the warehouse and opened a supermarket in Motherwell.

He expanded, then in 1973 he moved from retail to wholesaling.

Not only did Yaqub do well, but in 1984 he was awarded the OBE.

“Being a success made such a difference to my life,” he added.

“I felt secure for the first time. Suddenly everybody wanted to know me!”

Yaqub Ali OBE, businessman, community worker, and philanthropist; born December 12, 1931, died June 7, 2003.

Source: The Free Library

Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland

Obituary to Yaqub Ali known affectionately as “Johnnie the Darkie”, in Blantyre.

Yaqub Ali A refugee, an immigrant, a pedlar, and finally a millionaire

Bashir Maan

Wednesday 11 June 2003


THE death of Yaqub Ali is a great loss not only for the Asian community but also for Scottish society. He was the most generous person I ever came across, seldom ignoring an appeal for donations for a good cause. He was born in Saddrpura in the province of Punjab, India.

His was a life of rags to riches but he never forgot his rags. His father was a poor farmer. Thus Yaqub attended only the village primary school for four years where there were no fees and learned only to read and write basic Urdu. He was sent to a religious school, where education was free, to learn and memorise the Koran, perhaps to prepare him for a religious vocation. Yaqub committed to memory 17 out of the 30 parts of the Koran and then met with a serious accident, which hindered his speech for a year. That put an end to his religious education. At the independence and partition of India in 1947, his village was ceded to India and, as Muslims, his father with the whole family migrated to Pakistan. After wandering as refugees for a couple of years, during which young Yaqub suffered from bouts of malaria, the family settled in a suburb of Pakpattan, southern Punjab. In 1949, his elder brother, Sardar Ali, came to Glasgow to join some relatives who were working as pedlars in Scotland. By 1952, his brother had comfortably settled in Glasgow and invited Yaqub to come and join him. Yaqub arrived in Glasgow on March 29, 1952, and began peddling with his brother and other Asians in Scotland. I came to Glasgow in February 1953. My hosts were living in Hospital Street, Gorbals, and Yaqub and his brother were across the street. In keeping with the Asian tradition of entertaining the guest of your friends, the Ali brothers next evening invited my hosts and me for a meal and that was how l met Yaqub on the second day of my arrival in Scotland. Yaqub and I soon became very good friends and as I also joined the peddling fraternity we often went out together on our rounds. Yaqub was very conscious of his total lack of English. He joined the evening English language classes at the Skerry’s College in 1953 and continued until he had become reasonably good in the language by about 1956.

Yaqub was very generous, even in his early days when he was not well off. One afternoon when we were resting on a grassy edge of a road in Wishaw, schoolgirls started shouting at us racist names such as ”Johnnie the darkie”. When the girls came close to us, Yaqub got up and approached them. He smiled and handed them six pence each, saying: ”This no nice, please don’t say again.” The girls, visibly embarrassed said, ”thank you Mr Darkie”, and went on their way. On going out with friends or to restaurants, he would always offer to pay and leave a generous tip. Indeed, it was a tip that introduced him to his future wife, Nancy.

One day in the late 1950s during his rounds in the village of Blantyre, near Glasgow, he went to a cafe. A cup of tea cost him 5d but he gave the waitress 2/6d and told her to keep the change. The waitress was flabbergasted at being given a tip that in those days was just about a day’s wages of a young waitress. However, she said it was too much and, returning two shillings, told him that she was not a waitress but the owner of the place. Over the years their friendship developed into love and they married in 1968. In spite of vast difference in their cultures their marriage was very happy and highly successful. Nancy became a tower of strength for Yaqub at home and at work. Nancy died in 2000 after a long illness and this was an insufferable loss for him and he never recovered. In 1956, Yaqub and his elder brother opened a wholesale warehouse to supply merchandise to the Asian peddlers. During the day Yaqub tended the warehouse and in the evening he did his peddling round. Over and above these two jobs, he also did a lot of voluntary work to help his compatriots. He was actively involved and held high positions in the Muslim Mission and the Pakistan Social and Cultural Society of Glasgow, the two organisations that looked after the religious, cultural, and social needs of the Pakistani community.

By the early 1960’s most Asians had abandoned peddling, mainly for jobs in transport, and some were taking over corner shops. Yaqub and his brother closed the warehouse and opened a supermarket in Motherwell. Soon after, there was a difference of opinion and Yaqub left the partnership. This break with his elder brother was the turning point in his life. Though uneducated, Yaqub was full of ideas, always brimming with confidence and hadhigh aspirations. In partnership with his younger brother, Taj Ali, he opened a licensed grocer’s store in Motherwell under the name AA Brothers. He introduced the novel idea of cut-price selling and reduced the prices of spirits and beers. This was a huge success. He roped me into this business and opened more shops in Glasgow and Dumbarton. A A Brothers became synonymous with the lowest prices in Scotland and people began coming from as far as Inverness and Gretna to buy at their shops. In 1973, Yaqub went into wholesale trade under the name of Castle Cash & Carry selling wines, spirits, groceries, and fancy goods. At the peak of this venture his turnover exceeded £ 100m and he employed more than 250 people. He closed this business in 1995 and sold the property. By now he had enough money to retire and enjoy a life of luxury, but he could not sit idle and in 1997 he went into property development and the investment business. By early this year his various development companies had completed a leisure/residential complex at Dundee, various other residential schemes, and a links golf course development at Southern Gailes, near Irvine. Yaqub was a workaholic and had no notion of leisure time. Over and above his heavy business commitments and his involvement in various ethnic minority organisations, he was very active in the Conservative Party where he held many prominent positions, including council member of the Scottish Conservative Party, chairman of the One Nation Forum Scotland, and Chairman of Focus in Scotland. He raised more than £ 1m for the Conservative Party. He was one of the biggest benefactors to the Conservative Party, donating hundreds of thousands of pounds. He was very passionate about the welfare and development of his motherland and its people and took many initiatives and supported many causes to that effect. His last acts of devotion to Pakistan were first to donate £ 500,000 (the largest single donation) to Strathclyde University to set up a fund for the post-graduate education of deserving students from Pakistan who are bound to go back and serve their country. Secondly, he set up an education trust with £ 350,000 in Pakistan to provide scholarships to poor, deserving students for higher education in Pakistan. The interests of the local Muslim, as well as the whole black and minority ethnic communities, were close to his heart. He contributed about £ 200,000 over the years for the building of the Glasgow central mosque and the adjoining Islamic cultural and community centre. He was a member of the Race Relations Advisory Council for six years, chair of the Ethnic Minority Enterprise Centre, Glasgow, for the past 10 years, and a director of the Ethnic Business Forum Ltd. His other important appointments included: member of the Scottish Industrial Board, Scottish Police Advisory Board, director of the Licensed Trade Benevolent Committee, president UK/Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, trustee of the Strathclyde University Foundation, and member of the Court of Strathclyde University. He was awarded an OBE for services to industry in 1984. Yaqub had a full and successful life. He was charitable beyond his means. He had deep concerns for the less fortunate. He was a good and reliable friend. He was rich but, above all, he was a gentleman, a good human being with a kind and compassionate heart. He will be sadly missed by his son, Rafiq, daughter-in-law Fazila, and granddaughter Khadija, as well as by the countless number of people whose life he enriched simply by knowing them.

Yaqub Ali OBE, businessman, community worker, and philanthropist; born December 12, 1931, died June 7, 2003.

Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland

Yaqub Ali dies on visit to Pakistan

YAQUB Ali, one of Scotland’s foremost Asian entrepreneurs, has died during a brief visit to Pakistan.

The millionaire businessman, who had returned to his homeland to work on a trust he was setting up to help deprived young people attend university, was 72 and battling against cancer for the third time. Before he left his home in Larkhall, Lanarkshire, he reassured concerned family that he would be back within a week. Leading politicians yesterday were among those who paid tribute to Mr Ali, who arrived in Glasgow in 1952 with £ 4 in his pocket and began earning his living by selling knitwear door to door. Mr Ali, a Tory party supporter, made his name building up the Gorbals-based Castle Cash and Carry empire and earlier this year was listed among Scotland’s 10 wealthiest Asian businessmen. He is known to have given large donations to a number of projects, including £ 250,000 to the Pakistan higher education scholarship scheme last year. His firm, Castle 2000 Property Developments, also was behind a new £ 40m golf complex in Irvine, Ayrshire, which was sold earlier this year. Frank McAveety, minister for tourism, culture and the arts, who worked for Castle Cash and Carry as a student and last year attended a delegation to Pakistan organised by Mr Ali, described him as a ”lovely fellow” who donated to ”endless charities across Scotland and Pakistan”. Mohammed Sarwar, Britain’s first Muslim MP, said: ”I know people crying in Hindu, Sikh and Christian communities. He was loved by all. This is a very sad loss for Scotland.” Bashir Mann, a former Glasgow councillor and a friend of Mr Ali’s for more than 50 years, said: ”We will miss him and so will not only the Asian community but the Scottish community as a whole.” Mr Ali, whose wife, Nancy, died in September 2000, had a son, Rafiq, and a granddaughter He fell ill soon after arriving in Pakistan and died on Saturday, when he had been due to return to Scotland. A Muslim funeral took place on Sunday in Pakpattan in the south of the country, the village where he grew up. Dilshad Ahmad, 42, Mr Ali’s nephew, said: ”His death is a very big loss for our family and our community.”

Source: Glasgow Herald

Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland

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